Saving your “rescue from a fire” item

What would you save if your home were burning? It’s an intriguing question that I hope none of us ever have to face. The point, of course, is a harsh way to get us to consider what’s truly important and want’s expendable.

My wife and my daughter spent this past weekend at a Girl Scout campout. This was the big, multi-troop event that takes place each spring. The girls leave home on Friday night to have a great time, enjoy each other’s company, and return on Sunday with, among other things, a car full of stuff that smells like smoke.

I spent most of Sunday afternoon washing the stinky laundry, including Cow (pictured above). Cow has been with my daughter for a decade. In fact, she’s “had” cow since before she was born. When my wife was pregnant, she and I took at trip to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania. I decided it would be fun to win a toy for the new baby on the midway, so I played game after game after game, losing each one in spectacular fashion. I ended up buying Cow from a gift shop (my wife took a photo of the shameful transaction).

My daughter loves Cow and was disappointed when she couldn’t sleep with her on Sunday night because Cow was still wet. That’s when I realized, when my daughter moves out, I’ll keep Cow to remind me of her childhood. Everything else — the artwork, Hogwarts scarf, posters and so on — pale in comparison to Cow’s significance. I could let everything else of hers go. It’s my “rescue from a fire” item I’d grab for my daughter.

A few years ago, when my grandfather passed away, I traveled to New York for the services. We went through the things in his house, and I found many things I wanted to keep. My grandfather was a tremendous artist who worked in pewter and silver mainly, designing flatware and other pieces for Oneida, Ltd. While going through his house, we found so much more than forks, knives and spoons.

There were paintings, sketches, drawings, short stories, tools and so much more, including a steamer trunk from his time in the navy that bore incredible things. I wanted to take so much of it home.

But, I told myself no, and took some time deciding what few items I could store in our house as mementos. As I recovered from the overriding emotion, I thought about it more logically. All of that stuff, as amazing as it was, would be clutter in my home, stuffed in a basement, closet, or attic. I’d take it out to look at occasionally, then infrequently, then almost never. That’s not the kind of treatment my grandfather’s memory deserves.

In the end, I took two spoons he designed, as well as the original sketches for their design. At home, I got a shadowbox from a craft store, mounted them inside and hung the result on a wall as a piece of art. Now I see it almost daily and smile every time I do.

All of the love without the clutter.

My wife did something similar after her grandmother passed away. Her grandmother was a Polish immigrant who often cooked for my wife and her family when she was a kid, generating lasting memories. Today, we have a pastry cutter that she often used and a hand-written recipe plus a photo in a shadowbox that’s hanging, appropriately, in our kitchen.

Here’s one final example. I have a “thing” for T-shirts, much to my wife’s chagrin. Two years ago, she took several of my oldest ones, which I was too afraid to wear due to their age, and had them made into a beautiful quilt that lives on my bed. Again, all the sentiment with none of the clutter.

No, you don’t have to turn off your emotions when de-cluttering. Find that one awesome item (or two or three), treat it with the respect it deserves, and enjoy the uncluttered memories. Treat those things you hope you would be able to save in an emergency with the respect you feel for them.

7 Comments for “Saving your “rescue from a fire” item”

  1. posted by Practical Archivist on

    David, what a wonderful job you’ve done. I agree that treasures kept specifically to remind you of someone you love should be seen and enjoyed. My advice for family treasures has always been to ditch the clutter and treat the “keepers” right.

    My only concern is that your shadowboxes don’t have UV protection. Even if they’re out of direct sunlight, compact florescent bulbs emit a lot of UV rays.

    Some plexiglass material has that quality inherently. Glass needs to be coated. Gaylord.com sells sheets of film that can be trimmed to any size and then attached with clear 2 sided tape. It’s catalog number WW-GAM2024.

    Great work! :)

  2. posted by britannia on

    “when my daughter moves out, I’ll keep Cow to remind me of her childhood.” Don’t be surprised if your daughter takes Cow with her when she goes.

    Someone has written a book with photos of people’s “10 things I’d save in a fire”.

  3. posted by Dean on

    My daughter took her “cow” with her to MIT!

  4. posted by Christy on

    My husband and I both still sleep with our respective “cows.” :-)

  5. posted by Marie on

    By sheer coincidence, my family heirlooms have all been practical. My grandparents’ flatware is my “remember them” item because I adored the floral design as a child and loved using it at Easter dinner. Now I get to use it daily. For my other grandparents, it was baking dishes that remind me of her famous lasagnas. My wedding registry was very sparse because I was so excited to use the old stuff and had no interest in picking out new things.

  6. posted by Joe on

    I do not have any “save in a fire” items. I can’t decide whether to be happy or sad about that.

  7. posted by April on

    When we were in college, the dorm my husband (then boyfriend) was living in burned to the ground. Thankfully no one was hurt, but they all lost everything. It was early in the morning and most stumbled out the building half asleep, assuming it was a drill. They didn’t even have proper clothes on, let alone bring anything out with them.

    About that same time (a couple of months prior), my computer crashed and I was unable to save about 4 years worth of photos. All of them gone.

    These two experiences have definitely shaped the way I treat my things. Most objects I own are pleasing to me, but ultimately replaceable. I might be bummed if I lost some of them, but I could move on. I purposely keep myself slightly detached emotionally from them.

    But I learned that pictures are incredibly valuable to me. More than books, more than furniture, more than artwork… more than anything else I own. If I lose those pictures, I feel like I’ll lose a part of myself.

    So, my “grab it in case of fire” item is my laptop. I have multiple back ups now for saving my photos (both local and long distance), but the easiest to grab since it’s always out and nearby is my laptop. I can’t lose those pictures.

    But having said that, if I had two seconds more, I’d also grab my purse, which I always keep fully stocked (all my gear stays in it always, and anything that needs charging sits right next to it). You cannot believe how much of a pain it is to replace all the information in your wallet/purse (keys, credit cards, ID cards, cell phone contacts, etc.) when everything else is gone. Especially since it can be days or weeks before authorities will let you back into the building to try and salvage things.

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